I was ten years old. We were against the wall, all twelve of us, like a criminal lineup outside the girls’ locker room. Little girls with wet pool hair, little girls in little shorts lined up with their arms flat against their sides.
How long were our shorts, Mr. Principal wanted to know. There was a strict rule about short-shorts being too short even for short little girls like us.
So he examined us each from head to toe with lingering eyes to catch our bodies in an act of rebellion in shorts too short for little girls. The little boys watched from across the hall. As he passed each girl and got closer to me, my shoulders ached as I stretched my arms straighter than straight, my fingertips clawing for length, to pass the hem of my shorts so he could see my shorts were too short for a little girl.
He stared at me. My lips were wet.
Don’t wear those again, he said.
But I wore them again. And again, and again.
There were more rules.
At my mother’s wedding I wore a velvet dress and learned little girls must always cross their legs.
It’s uncomfortable, I said.
It’s proper, I was told.
At Disney World with my father, I wore a white tee shirt and stood in the rain, freed of my Florida sweat.
Don’t stand in the rain.
But it feels good.
It isn’t proper, he said.
I want to say my breasts sprouted, because they say that’s what breasts do. They sprout like beans, like broccoli, like flowers (always flowers). Perky pink petunias.
But my breasts did not sprout like flowers. They inflated like bubble gum bubbles, bursting the seams of my skin with red streaks like bleeding begonias. Becoming a woman like it was an ugly thing to do.
Every other weekend at my second home, I rummaged through my stepmother’s second closet, in my second bedroom. Clothing too small for breasts unlike flowers, I stuffed myself in and watched in the mirror the buttons not button, my breasts uncontained staring back at me, heaving and free. My hair in luscious curls, plumpness painted on my lips, I winked at the mirror. Playboy, pop star, men pining for me.
My sketch of the penis and its internal anatomy was tacked to the bulletin board in our 10th grade classroom, my name printed in the bottom right corner. The assignment was to draw a diagram like the one in our textbook. Other students giggled through the process, forgetting the urethra, remembering the pubic hair. But I took the penis very, very seriously.
The next week my health teacher tacked my vagina to the bulletin board. Perfect, he said. The ideal anatomical representation of the female sex.
It would be a year until I learned I had a clitoris.
It wasn’t my digital camera, but I used it to take my picture. On my back, arm outstretched to my side, lens angled down, my face round, cherry cheeks, rosy mounds (like flowers), bare and exposed. Upload. Send.
So beautiful, they said.
And I blushed in the lamplight of my teenage bedroom, men swooning.
When I was nineteen years old I bought a too-tight black thong and ironed on the letters of my boyfriend’s name with an apostrophe and an “s.” I slipped it on and the corners of each letter peeled away from the fabric as if they didn’t belong there.
With wet lips he watched as I unbuttoned my jeans, slipping the poly-cotton blend past my hips for the big reveal. With wet lips I spread my legs and he salivated at his name.